Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

The Stranger

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Whilst the occupants of the monastery which was in the heart of the desert near Akmim carried on their tasks as normal, a young man was seen loitering near the monastery and looking towards it and this carried on for three days.

This was soon noticed by Father Makar, and in turn he told the Father Superior, Father Epiphanius, head of the monastery, who asked Father Makar to call the young man which he did and the young man came obediently to the abbot.

Standing before the Father Superior the young man appeared to be very young, a youth, of no more than 17 years of age. He was wearing very simple clothing and a cloth around his head that covered most of his face. His sandals appeared extremely worn from his journey and a slight sadness in his eyes.

However when he came before the Father Superior the young man greeted him warmly and gently shook his hand. Father Epiphanius asked him:

"I have been informed by Father Makar that you have been near the monastery for the past two days. Is there anyway in which we can assist you?"
The young man answered, My joy would be if you accept me amongst you.
With all joy, but do you come as a visitor, as a worker, or as one who seeks the monastic life?
I would like to work.
Father Epiphanius asked, What is your skill?
I am a vinedresser and I have much experience in growing vine. This is my skill.
But why have you left your past work and come to here.
I love this monastery. As for why I left my past work it was because I was rejected by those I worked with and they threw me out. I have come here often and I know all the monks.
Do they know you?
The truth is they are more weighed down by the responsibilities of the monastery.
Why are your clothes so tattered?
I have no other clothes and I have had these for a long time. They were given to me by a kind person.
What is your name?
It is Jamie.
And what is your surname?
Jamie was silent. At this point Father Epiphanius felt pity for Jamie, and thought to himself, I wonder is he not answering because he is an orphan? This must be the case otherwise he would have answered his surname? Is it possible that a person does not know who his parents are? He gazed upon the youthful face and whilst appearing young there appeared at the same time to be an age to his face which had seen many cold winter nights and many hot summer days.

The Father Superior then began to contemplate saying to himself, I thank you God from all my heart because you took care of me and did not leave me. For how many orphans who do not have fathers or mothers do you take under your wing This is one of your brothers. Hunger eats at his stomach and nakedness at his flesh. I thank you Lord that you made me worth of taking the blessings of offering help to your brother Forgive me Lord Forgive me. Tears began to fill the Father Superiors eyes.

Noticing that the silence had filled the room Father Epiphanius hurried to cover over the lack of an answer to the last question and said, My son it does not matter to me who your father or mother are, or where you come from for a man is not the one who says, this is my father but the one who says, this is who I am. Just one thing, please comfort me and tell me your intentions are good. Jamie responded, Believe me. You will never regret accepting me.

+ + +

In front of the field of vines, the elderly Barsoum sat explaining to Jamie how the work is divined and explaining to Jamie the responsibilities he was about to take on his shoulders.

Barsoum was a man who had fifty five years experience in tending the vine. Forty of those years had been spent in the monastery where he took care of the four and half acres of vineyard that were west of the monastery. He was a large man, which a huge beard but his heart was like that of a child.

He put his hand around Jamies shoulder and said, I love my work and am faithful to it. I want you to be the same, so dont let me down. At which point Jamie smiled almost on the point of laughter but his face quickly returned to silence and he did not answer.

Barsoum continued with his advice, Be sure that the workers dont teach you to smoke cigarettes, or to be lazy in your work. I want you to be faithful, not like the others but as the owner of the vineyard who owns the planted vines. At which point Jamie smiled again and he handed Jamie the tools which he needed and Jamie started the work.

After a few days Barsoum felt that Jamie was so happy with his new work, and he would watch him and admire his skill and how faithful he was in his work. When the work brought them together Barsoum would say to Jamie, I want the vines to become a part of you do you understand? To which Jamie comforted the old man and promised him that they would.

Barsoum was comforted by watching Jamie as he passed over every branch of the vines, his hands working nimbly and gently with every part of every plant, taking away the bad leaves and pruning that which needed pruning. He also made a circular mound around each plant which could carry the water without letting it escape so that each plant got its fill of water and this pleased Barsoum greatly.

As the days passed by Barsoum began to think to himself that now he could leave Jamie on his own and leave for the city to get what he needs and what Jamie needs without him being there. For the truth be said, Jamie carried more about the vine than he did. He then called out to Jamie, Quickly Jamie, for night is coming upon us, and we need to water those last plants.

Jamie with wide strides and much enthusiasm continued to finish the work of the day and returned to Barsoum, who praised him for his hard days work, and extended his hand to wipe some of Jamies sweat and Jamie seemed to accept this without complaint.

Barsoum said to Jamie, Now come with me that we may break bread together. Jamie answered, I will eat but not now. Barsoum then said, But now is not a time of fasting or asceticism, for we are now in the fifty days of the feast of the resurrection. Jamie answered, Believe me, I am not hungry.

How is this when you have started work from the early morning and you have put nothing in your mouth all day? Jamie answered, Please dont worry about me, and concentrate on yourself. He said these words as if they came from a deep well.

However Barsoum was not taken by this and became insistent saying, But I have to repay you in someway for all the hard work that you have done. For Barsoum had offered Jamie money and new clothes in the past only to be turned down and told that he had no need for any of it.

This time Jamie said to Barsoum, In which case I have one request and Barsoum asked him to name it. I want your permission to give each of the vine branches a name.
At which Barsoum laughed heartily, Is that all I thought you were going to ask me to allow you to take over responsibility for half of the field. Even the Father Superior would not object to that. We have talked about you many times and he is very impressed with you and always says we do not deserve this person amongst us." At this comment Jamie did not say anything but fell silent

So over the next days Jamie began to name the branches. He chose twelve good branches and named them after the twelve apostles, Saying this one is Peters, this one, is Johns, this one is Jamess, and so on He then chose two strong branches and said, That one is Athansius, and this one is Discorous and so he went around the field naming the branches with the names of saints and martyrs. He then gave the remaining branches the names of each of the monks who were in the monastery at that time, and the branches varied, some were long, some were short, some were very fruitful and others light. It seems that the quality of the branches matched that of the monks in the monastery. Time went by in the monastery and the days passed by normally. In that time Jamie was rarely seen outside the fields nor did he speak to anyone much but carried on happily working on the vines.

+ + +

One day - as was normally their habit the workers sat down in the workers quarters to discuss the days events and catch up on the latest gossip over their cups of tea before they went to sleep and the conversation for the first time turned on Jamie. As usual Jamie was not there and until then no one had really talked about him much. They did not know where Jamie slept or when he ate. All they knew was that he was from southern most Egypt.

It is said that Jamies father passed away when he was young, a snake came out and bit him when he was in the field and that he died of its poison, and that his mother died of grief over her husband and from then on Jamie was orphaned said one of the workers. It is also said that he went first to his relatives but they rejected him, and he has been moving round from job to job, but every job he goes to he is either thrown out by the owner or he leaves it said another.

Is that why he is always quiet? said one. Maybe said the other. At this point Jonah who was the eldest of the workers said, I wonder if he is happy amongst us? One of the workers answered, Who knows maybe he cant find a better place. But where does he spend his time after a hard days work? No one could answer that one.

Jonah then continued, Any way he is a good lad, who is above speaking about others or anger towards others. At which point Takla a young worker who was in his twenties answered, That is true, yesterday I was returning from work to my room when I met Jamie and he said to me, 'What is the matter Takla, why has the devil of anger beaten you?' We then sat in the shadow of a tree and I sat explaining to him how I had an argument with Saeed and we had exchanged bad words, and my emotions raged up and down and I moved my hands and slammed them into the tree. Throughout all this he sat listening to me silently and not moving his face or his hands. He was completely concentrating on me, and I could see a kind of timelessness in his eyes and it was as if he could see right into me. When I had finished all that I had to say. He smiled to me in a way I have never seen before and patted me on the shoulder and said, For the sake of Christ forgive him, for it is written, Forgive, and it shall be forgiven to you. I felt then a great peace come over me and all my anger and hatred evaporated and I went following him but then I could not find him.

At this point another worker called Abraham spoke, as if to himself saying, Sometimes he speaks as if he knows what is going on in the monastery even though he was never there, and he has only been here five weeks. To which one responded, He is mad. The others rebuked him that he is just to be pitied and his circumstances in life did not help him.

As the conversation went on, another of the workers although reluctant at first plucked the courage to speak saying that he was once rebuking someone and decided to accuse him of something. He then asked Jamie to witness against this person. Jamie feeling that his witness might be unjust declined to do so, at which point this worker turned round and aggressively grabbed Jamie and accused him of cowardice and he hit him on the face calling him a thief.

When he did this Jamie smiled as a father would do to a son and he added I would not have believed what he did if it was not me to whom it happened. Takla then said, It is said that his mother was a lady full of virtues, gentle of heart.

One of the workers then spoke, Yes I saw her at the door of the monastery nine days ago, asking about him, she was an elderly lady and Jamie met her with great joy, and he spoke to her a long time, and as she was leaving she left a package in his hand wrapped in a red ribbon.

However the other workers joked with him assuring him that his mother was dead.

The worker Ramzy was listening to all this in silence and was moved so much by what he heard that in the morning he gathered what extra items the workers had which they did not need such and clothes, etc and he went to Jamie and gave it to him saying, Please accept this from us not because you are in need, but as a fellow worker with whom we would like to share what we have. At which point Jamie smiled greatly and thanked Ramzy and asked him to greet the others and thank them also.

Also that day Galiel the worker in charge of the horses of the monastery spoke to Jamie,

Forgive me Jamie if I have brought you out of your peace to speak to you.
No not at all
Why do you stay silent? You rarely speak, we have not seen you once laugh loudly and you always run away from our gatherings Do not think my brother Jamie that you alone are passing through difficult times but we also struggle and strive for the eternal city Come closer to us for you may find some solace and comfort
Believe me I am not that far away from all of you as you think It is just that I do not wish to force my presence on your gatherings
Do not say that, for we live on every word you say
You are kind hearted Galiel, but you know that I do not like discussions where others are falsely accused or discussions involving material things. You know that our fellow workers love the night and hate the day for the day brings hard work but the night brings idleness and gossip.
In that day also Father Epiphanius came to the vine fields to see the work and there he met Jamie and he greeted him saying, Do you want anything Jamie? To which Jamie responded, I want your joy that makes me happy and satisfies me. Father Epiphanius then asked him, How would you feel about coming with me to help me in the matters of the monastery. Jamie answered, I like helping everybody and would ask your permission to remain here with my brothers, to sweat with them and have joy with them. At which point with great reverence he asked to be excused by Father Epiphanius to go and help the elderly Tawadri with a bag he was carrying.

Tawadri greeted him, May God bless you my son and reward you with many good children. Jamie nodded his head and smiled and went on carrying the burden of the elderly man.

+ + +

The devil of envy came one day to one of the workers to falsely accuse Jamie, that gentle youth of a crime he did not commit. It started when one morning the worker knocked heavily on Barsoums door and the elderly Barsoum came to the door to be told that three of the best and most prize vines had been cut down in the vineyard and to leave Barsoum in no doubt the worker said that he saw Jamie with his own two eyes cutting them down.

Barsoum headed out to the field and began to weep bitterly when he saw the damage that was down and he went back to the monastery seeking the Father Superior and when he got to see him he was so upset the Father Superior could not work out what had happened. He calmed Barsoum down and spoke with him and the worker.

Before the Father Superior, Barsoum, and the worker, Jamie stood accused but he appeared serene and upright. The Father Superior started off,

Barsoum has accused you of destroying some of the vines did you do this?
No. I did not.
But this brother (pointing to the worker) saw you cutting them down with your axe
Jamie fell silent
Are you not going to defend yourself?
I love the vineyard, and there is no one who loves it more than me
Is it possible that you did this when you were not conscience of yourself?
No. I am conscience of everything
Jamie. You know that we love you and we care for you. Barsoum always speaks highly of you to me. Why have you failed us now?
I also love you all, and I love this place, and all that is in it, and yet you are angry with me without cause. At this point Jamie began to weep.
The Father superior took pity and said, I do not judge you. I am just trying to find out what happened, why then do you cry?
At which point Jamie fell silent again.
However if what Barsoum and this worker are saying is true then I am afraid you will not be able to stay in the monastery anymore.
Do what you wish for I am only a visitor here.
In an attempt to change the conversation the Father Superior then asked, Jamie. Do you have a Father of confession?
No I do not have one.
Yes I thought so for I have noticed that you have not had Holy Communion from the time you came here. Have you had Holy Communion before your coming to the monastery?
Once a very long time ago
How do you expect to progress in the spiritual life without confession and Holy Communion
What about the Holy Bible and your prayers?
Let someone read before me the Holy Bible and pray first of all.
At which point Barsoum said, Before you are taught you need to be punished for your evil deed. How can you betray the place in which you work and live in peace? A period of silence then followed from Jamie.
Father Epiphanius then interrupted, I think there is a solution. From today Jamie you will work in the kitchen to help the father there. He then called for the monk responsible for the kitchen and said to him, I want you to teach this young lad how to pray and how to read the Holy Bible and speak to him I beg you about the sacrament of repentance and confession, and about the sacrament of thanksgiving, so that he may confess on Saturday and have Holy Communion on Sunday."

The monk bowed down and took Jamie with him. Father Ephiphanius then turned to Barsoum and said, I have a strong feeling that Jamie is innocent, but to prevent any problems I think it is best he stays away from the vineyard. Barsoum still upset answered, I did not realize that he was a traitor to that extent." To which the worker responded, Yes How did it reach the extent for him to destroy the vines and mock the trust which has been given him by the monastery?

Indeed, for it was that very worker who had destroyed the vines in his envy of Jamie. It had been an opportunity to get rid of him once and for all.

+ + +

On Friday having completed his work in the kitchen, the Father responsible for the kitchen called Jamie to his cell and Jamie immediately accepted. The Father Monk then began advising him saying, Brother Jamie. We must live the life of repentance before the years pass us by and then we stand before God, then what will we do? How could we then give an account for what we have done? Life with God is a great joy which cannot be compared to anything else in this world. Tomorrow when you stand before the priest, speak to him of your sins and reveal to him your thoughts that God may forgive you and remove from you your sin and you become all pure and you enter into the covenant of the eternal life by partaking of His Holy Sacraments. I beg you Jamie, be strong for we are all sinners and God will not judge us for sinning, but He will judge us for not repenting after we have sinned.

Jamie did not answer, but nodded his head smiling.

The monk then asked, You can begin today by praying to our beloved Jesus. Do you wish to join me?
Yes, with great joy answered Jamie and the monk began to pray.

O Lord Jesus how magnificent You are and how close You are today to my heart I do not deserve You. You have given me more than I deserve and more than I need. You have put me to shame because of your great mercies and your long suffering because of me. I have fallen short, and yet you have remained faithful with me continually strengthen me. I thank you that you love me and protect me. I ask out of your love to my brother who stands with me that you grant him your mercy out of your grace and give him to direct his life as you deem fit and be before him in every good deed.

Bless us
At this point Jamie responded with a voice as if of running waters, Amen.
Purify us
Sanctify us
For yours is the glory forever.

At this point the monk was surprised by a great light and thick cloud filled the cell and the monk looked to see Christ where Jamie had stood and He ascended towards heaven and the monk fell on his face to the ground. For the young stranger Jamie was Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jamie is a Coptic word meaning presence.

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